Finding a Seat in Four Languages - Ionesco’s 'The Chairs'
Finding a Seat in Four Languages – Ionesco’s The Chairs
What difference does language make? This July, the play Les Chaises (The Chairs), by Eugène Ionesco will be presented in four consecutive seasons, in English, Te Reo Māori, Samoan and Cantonese. Led by experienced theatremakers, each production will be a full-immersion work aiming to make theatre accessible for everyone from community groups to language students to those with no fluency at all.
“We wanted to find a work that would speak direct to the audience with its action,” says Te Pou Theatre’s Tainui Tukiwaho. “The Chairs is a classic European work that translates well to different languages to showcase Aotearoa’s diversity. Pākeha stands with the other cultures as a distinct voice, unique to NZ, rather a generic ‘norm’.”
The Te Reo Māori, Samoan and Cantonese productions are new translations and the Auckland seasons will be world premieres of these texts.
Te Rēhia Theatre producer Amber Curreen sees this as part of a wider conversation on the place of language in NZ. “Why is English seen as the default language for cultural presentations in Aotearoa?” she says. “Te Reo Māori speakers are on the rise, and performing in our language unlocks the beauty of our culture.”
Renee Liang, producer of the Cantonese-language production, agrees. “Nearly 20% of NZ’s population speak more than one language, and that number is increasing. This is part of the evolution of the stories we tell about ourselves.”
All four producers have found the collaborative process of bringing the season together rewarding. “Although the cultures are different, we’ve found many similarities in the way we approach this story,” says Samoan-language producer Edward Peni.
Ionesco’s famous absurdist farce, written in 1952, has been reinterpreted for Kiwi audiences in the present day. An Old Man and Old Woman frantically prepare for the arrival of mysterious guests and an important announcement. The location is variously a wharenui, fale tele, ancestral hall and fortress; the themes of loneliness, loss of connection and the nostalgia of old age are common to every culture. Physical comedy will pair with the quirks of each language to make meaning clear.
With each production helmed by producers, translations, directors and actors from the relevant culture, this is a watershed moment for Kiwi theatre. Curreen says, “Diversity is more than just language or ethnicity; it’s also opening up the discussion on how we’re going to make arts more accessible to all and less about ‘mainstream’ versus ‘other’.” Poignantly, many of the artists involved are discovering their mother tongues for the first time.
Featuring: Adam Rohe, Chris Martin, Amber Curreen, Antonio Te Maioha, Acacia O'Conner, Tainui Tukiwaho, Edward Peni, Aleni Tufuga, Renee Liang, Hweiling Ow, Helene Wong, Sam Wang.
Where: Te Pou Theatre, 44a Portage Rd., New Lynn, Auckland(free parking)
Dates: 11-14 July – English; 18-21 July – Te Reo; 25-28 July- Samoan; 1-4 August – Cantonese
Tickets: https://tepoutheatre.nz/ $12-$22 - discounts for multiple shows
Running time: Approx 60 minutes
School matinees available.